After the year the hospitality industry just went through, it’s more important than ever that enterprise hotels update their technology roadmaps. Implementing technology that allows them to focus on the overall customer journey and offer a customized, yet branded experience, will be key when it comes to getting ahead in 2021 and beyond.
Hotel technology systems have come a long way in recent years due to the rise and sophistication of cloud-based hotel management systems. Yet the lack of integration and data fragmentation remain major challenges in the industry. As hotel bookings begin to pick up again, it’s never been more important for enterprise hotels to invest in a tech stack that focuses on the customer journey — from planning, searching, and booking, to the actual stay at the hotel, and through the post-stay experience.
SkiftX spoke with Lena Himmelhaus, senior director, Hospitality EMEA, at Shiji Group, about what a best-in-class hotel tech stack looks like, how it impacts the guest experience, and how hotel technology should evolve in response to the changes caused by Covid-19.
SkiftX: Can you talk a bit about your role at Shiji Group and how it’s impacted your thinking on hotel tech?
Lena Himmelhaus: I’m responsible for hospitality operations for Shiji’s Enterprise Platform, which includes onboarding new customers and providing customer support on a daily basis. Every day is different, and I’m constantly having to adapt to new learnings — but solving customer challenges and finding solutions to daily operations within the tech stack is what gets me up in the morning. During my time at Shiji, I’ve realized that flexibility is key when it comes to adapting to new industry standards and technology needs. This has been even more true during the Covid-19 pandemic.
SkiftX: In your opinion, what are some must-have features of a best-in-class hotel tech stack at the moment?
Himmelhaus: Without a doubt, open API is a critical feature. It allows the hotel company to connect to the most up-to-date technologies and easily adapt to new shifts in the industry. This is especially important since hotel operations tech is expected to evolve dramatically over the next few years.
For example, we don’t know how a vaccine passport or related health data will be managed in hotels yet. If this is something that gets automated, hotels need to be able to seamlessly access the APIs to implement this. With an API-everything approach, the hospitality companies can create their own user interfaces and develop and customize their own branded system experiences by building upon the solid infrastructure a hospitality tech company can provide.
Interactive dashboards and targeted analytics are also must-haves tech tools for enterprise hotel companies, due to the large amount of data being processed. These give hotel management staff the ability to react and alter their strategies in real-time.
A good hotel tech stack will also allow for single guest profiles. This enables the hotel to note guest preferences and customer details — though these are still applicable to privacy and GDPR rules — to customize every touchpoint of the hotel stay. Little details make a big difference. For example, a guest’s transaction history and personal data should be known by the hotel if they’ve stayed there before. A guest shouldn’t have to fill the same form out multiple times. Technology can solve these minor annoyances, which add up over time.
SkiftX: How does having the right hotel tech stack in place affect the experience of a hotel guest?
Himmelhaus: It allows hotel employees to spend more time with the guests directly. In my front desk days, I had to perform 20 different tasks on my computer to conduct the administrational work of a single check-in. Nowadays, with a good hotel tech stack, the guest can directly accomplish those administrational tasks themselves at a kiosk on the property, or digitally, even before they get to the hotel. Meanwhile, the front desk agent can provide a more personal, human experience, such as giving local recommendations or finding out more about guest preferences.
SkiftX: How does hotel technology need to evolve in response to the changes caused by Covid-19?
Himmelhaus: The focus going forward needs to be on guest-facing technology and enhancing the guest experience. More automation is needed to eliminate the number of physical touch points a guest interacts with. Additionally, mobile technology needs to be strengthened to allow guests to control parts of their stay on their own and improve communication between staff and guests — for example, offering guests the option to use mobile chat to inquire about in-room services.
On the employee side of things, technology will allow many above-property hospitality employees the option to work from anywhere around the world, which could enhance recruiting and workforce diversity. And on property, mobile tech can be used to improve housekeeping capabilities, by tracking cleanings and ensuring real-time security measures, for example.
SkiftX: It’s often been said that the hotel industry is behind from a tech standpoint, especially compared to sharing platforms like Airbnb and leading e-commerce brands. Do you think this is still the case?
Himmelhaus: I think the hospitality industry is ahead in many areas when it comes to online distribution, but the hotel tech experience on property still needs improvements. So many hotels continue to use on-premise systems, in which connections are complicated and expensive to achieve. Many property management systems are still based on paper workflows — and even if they’ve moved those workflows to a computer, many have inherited those manual standards. Upgrading a hotel’s central system is often such a massive, expensive undertaking, that many companies just avoid doing it.
SkiftX: Customer data fragmentation is a common challenge for enterprise hotels. How would an integrated hotel tech stack solve for this?
Himmelhaus: Single guest profiles fueled by customer data are key to giving enterprise hotels the ability to personalize the services and experiences they offer. But this information needs to be correctly maintained in order to do so, and this wasn’t always the case.
For example, when I was working for a hotel years ago, we would create guest profile reports manually on a daily basis for the general managers between properties. Often, a new guest profile was created multiple times for the same guest, each time they stayed at the same hotel, whether at the same property or with the same chain — even if they stayed on a weekly basis.
An integrated hotel tech stack should automate this process by searching, matching, and merging algorithms. While local and regional data protection and security legislation does make this a bit complicated, the creation of a single guest profile, which contains guest preferences, trends, and history, is the future of where the industry is headed.
SkiftX: What should an enterprise hotel keep in mind when looking for a hotel tech stack that’s best suited for their needs?
Himmelhaus: A hotel tech stack needs to be open and dynamic, and integrated and synchronized automatically. Integrations need to be event-driven, rather than request-driven, and therefore be updated in real time. The tech stack also needs to be globally available and must comply with the country’s local standards and legal regulations in terms of fiscal integrations, data protection, and privacy. Additionally, the systems need to be able to be easily implemented and maintained, while seamlessly inheriting a brand’s standards. The tech stack should also be integrated across the entire chain, instead of being configured on a single-property basis. On a chain level, you can scale fast and still maintain your brand standards.
Due to the pandemic, the opening of new hotels for enterprise customers is probably not the biggest issue in hospitality at the moment. But getting the tech stack right now can help companies be prepped and ready to go for when travel returns.